Is it 'wrong' to snuggle without sex?
March 2, 2013 7:21 PM   Subscribe

Am I leading someone on if he sleeps in my bed but not with me?

I'm getting back into the dating game after about a year of being single. I'm not a casual dater--I usually wind up in a longterm relationship and I'm fine with that except there's no one I'm interested in at the moment; there is, however, an acquaintance I've been spending time with and doing date-y things like going to dinner. He spent the night about a week ago. At first I said he could take the couch, then changed my mind and said he could share the bed with me, but, I said point-blank, I'm not willing to have sex. That was probably crude but I just wanted to make that clear. I just really wanted to snuggle. No kissing, no heavy petting, just some good old fashioned snuggling because I miss what it feels like to fall asleep next to a warm body.

A day later I mentioned to a (male) friend what had transpired and he suggested that I had been "cruel" and "led him on." FYI, this friend is pretty intelligent, perceptive and not someone I'd expect that line of thinking from, so I was a little ashamed that I had done something mean. Now, I KNOW I'm not obligated to sleep with anyone no matter what. I'm perfectly fine with my decision not to sleep with this person. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if it really is unfair to invite someone into my bed and then not go any further. I know I don't owe anyone anything, but I don't want to be manipulative or selfish in the sense that I'm getting what I want (human contact) and he's not getting what he assumed he would (sex). I did text him after and said I was sorry if I led him on and that I wasn't ready to sleep with anyone yet and he seemed fine, but it's been so long since I had to deal with men that I just don't know if I'm being weird. Thanks.
posted by thank you silence to Human Relations (44 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

You're fine. You stated your needs and conditions in a straight-forward fashion. If they are unacceptable to him in any way, it's on him to decline your invitation.
posted by carmicha at 7:25 PM on March 2, 2013 [16 favorites]

Sounds fine to me. IMO you aren't even required to give the up-front explanation that there won't be any sex, but you did, so you're doubly fine.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:26 PM on March 2, 2013

The thing is, you told him what you wanted and did not want before hand, so he was free to make his own decision, and he chose to sleep in your bed. He made his own choice as an adult and you were not being manipulative at all.
posted by bearette at 7:27 PM on March 2, 2013 [32 favorites]

Nope. If you say "hey let's go to bed" waggling your eyebrows and making sexy noises, then maaaaaaybe you could be accused of leading someone on, but if you say "You can share the bed -- I don't want to have sex, but I wouldn't mind snuggling" then you are being open, honest, and 100% on board.

You should probably be prepared for some people to be hurt and upset, but if they are, it's because they are expecting to be able to disregard your stated boundaries so I wouldn't feel bad about it.
posted by KathrynT at 7:28 PM on March 2, 2013 [14 favorites]

It does sort of imply the possibility of a more physical relationship in the future, which from the paragraph above it doesn't show that you ruled out, if that's what your friend meant by leading him on then the guy you snuggled with may have been setup to believe that this was the opening into greater intimacy on future dates.
posted by edbles at 7:34 PM on March 2, 2013 [13 favorites]

Not leading him on at all, and in fact, the guy sounds like a decent guy, snuggling with you without any pressure.

Snuggling is the best! Your friend who told you you were cruel has his priorities out of whack. The snuggler sounds like a keeper so far.
posted by xingcat at 7:36 PM on March 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

"that I wasn't ready to sleep with anyone yet "

I agree with edbles. This line to me implies that you might want to sleep with him someday. The things you describe telling this guy sound to me like the stuff a girl says when she wants to "take it slow," not when she is only interested in friendship. Verbally setting the boundary at not wanting to have sex might imply to a lot of guys that you were willing to make out, get naked, etc. -- everything except sex.

This doesn't mean you should feel guilty. It sounds like you did the best you could in the moment to be clear about what you did and did not want. But there is room to be more clear in any similar future situations, and I think it's nice of you to be asking about that.

All that said: If you know or strongly suspect that a guy is romantically interested in you, there's no amount of caveats and warnings and boundaries that will prevent a leading-on situation, if you invite him to sleep in your bed. All the "be clear with your words" stuff flies out the window when somebody will be full of hope and desperate to believe your actions rather than your statements. Anybody pining for you that you're not interested in, don't let 'em sleep in your bed. I'm not saying that this guy is in that situation, but keep it in mind in case you run into any guys like that in the future.
posted by vytae at 7:40 PM on March 2, 2013 [25 favorites]

No. He's not entitled to sex just because you guys are on a bed. Even if you were fooling around, he's not entitled to putting his penis in you until you say it is.

You were clear and direct, and he chose to stay. That's how it should be.
posted by discopolo at 7:43 PM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have done this, and also had it said to me, "I thought I could do this, but it is too tempting, so I'd rather not in future." Allow for that; it was fair.
posted by Riverine at 7:47 PM on March 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Ok, so it was a third party that's criticising you, not the guy who you actually snuggled with? Well, that's interesting that he thinks that, but the way I see it is that sex and intimacy are a very personal, very individual thing, and it's not about adhering to some abstract societal standard but rather making an agreement with another individual. If it works for you and your snuggle-buddy then that's all that matters.

But for what it's worth, I've known plenty of folks, both male and female, who would love an all-night snuggle session with a friend, and wouldn't think twice about it not going any farther.
posted by MrOlenCanter at 7:49 PM on March 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

You did the opposite of leading him on; you told him explicitly, beforehand, that sex was definitely not going to happen. So no matter how smart your friend is in general, he's wrong about that.
posted by John Cohen at 7:49 PM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well, everyone is right so far. You don't have any obligation, and you were clear.

I'm just gonna be the asshole here and say, if you say no sex, and then invite a guy into your bed, some guys are going to take that as "but I invite you to try to change my mind." That could get real annoying for both of you, real fast.

Sounds like that wasn't the case, though, so you should be good. Just be aware that a similar situation in the future with a different person might not go the same way.
posted by ctmf at 7:50 PM on March 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

I don't think what you're doing is "wrong", necessarily, and I think that if you're very honest this is an arrangement that can be OK.

That said, yeah, if I had a friend who I was doing datelike activities with, and then they invited me to stay over, and then they invited me into their bed, I would probably assume that we were heading in a romantic direction.

I can definitely see this same situation being asked about from the opposite angle ("I spend all this time with my friend, it's very intimate, she wants me to sleep at her house and in her bed without sex, does this mean she's into me?"), and I'm pretty sure we'd tell your counterpart to go for it, "just kiss her already", etc.

(Apologies if you're not female.)

I definitely think you need to absolutely know what you want and where the lines are to be drawn, and to keep this dude extremely well informed of all that. Because, yeah, you're sending mixed signals at the very least.

And, yes, of course nobody is entitled to sex and inviting someone to share your bed isn't implied consent for sex. Just because it has to be said.
posted by Sara C. at 7:51 PM on March 2, 2013 [14 favorites]

You haven't led him on regarding sex, but maybe he feels you are more than friends or moving towards that, and it sounds like this is not the case. If you want to continue to do things like have dinner together and snuggle and do things that romantic partners do, I think you have a responsibility to be really clear that you are not interested in being more than friends.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:59 PM on March 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

You haven't led him on regarding sex, but maybe he feels you are more than friends or moving towards that, and it sounds like this is not the case.

This is precisely what I came here to say. People don't deal well with ambiguity, and what you said to him regarding sex resolved only a tiny part of the overall ambiguity here.

IMO people that are just friends for the foreseeable future don't usually snuggle in bed, especially in the context of doing other date-y things. If this is leading up to something, fine, people have to tolerate ambiguity there; if not, I think you'll need to revert to more obvious "friends" territory.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:10 PM on March 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

You were clear, but you're not 6, either, on a sleep-over with your bestest pal ever. I think this is moderately childish and not really something a grown woman does.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:23 PM on March 2, 2013 [19 favorites]

It is a private arrangement between the two of you. If he's fine with it and you are fine with it, it's fine. If he starts getting cranky or whatever, that's when you renegotiate, as needed.
posted by Michele in California at 8:27 PM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is it wrong? No
Are you sending mixed signals? Yes
posted by greta simone at 8:33 PM on March 2, 2013 [13 favorites]

That said, yeah, if I had a friend who I was doing datelike activities with, and then they invited me to stay over, and then they invited me into their bed, I would probably assume that we were heading in a romantic direction.

Yeah this sums it up. People are being far too reductionist above. Yes, you made it clear there was going to be no sex. No, you would not have been obligated to have sex (ever) even if you hadn't been clear. Good, that important disclaimer is out of the way.

People are not robots. Doing date-like activities and then inviting a person into your bed is sending romantic signals no matter that you've said "no sex tonight!". A person of good intent could quite reasonably interpret the situation as heading in a sexual direction in the mid-term future. And then saying "I'm not ready to sleep with anyone yet" is classic ambiguity. He quite possibly heard "but in the future I may indeed be ready to sleep with you."

So, yeah, mixed signals all over the place.
posted by Justinian at 8:36 PM on March 2, 2013 [23 favorites]

I have a male friend who I do date type things with, we snuggle on the couch watching a tv series, we go out to parties together, he spends the night in my bed and we just cuddle. I like it. The idea came from him - he doesn't want a sexual relationship with me, and that's okay, I really value him as a friend, and love the physical contact. But it's not something I tend to tell people about because who's going to believe me? If you are able to be honest and open with your bed buddy, and he's okay with it - I certainly see no problem with it. A lot of us single folk really need skin touch and sometimes the people who are right to give it to us are not right for us to have sex with.
posted by b33j at 8:40 PM on March 2, 2013 [24 favorites]

Agreeing with everyone here. If a gal invites a non-gay guy to snuggle with her, and says "I'm not ready for sex yet," then any guy who is into her will take that as "take it slowly with me, okay? But don't count me out."

In that situation, a decent guy could snuggle with you, and then consider kissing you at a later date, if you continue to offer physical intimacy of any similar kind. Words are fine and good, but actions speak louder than them.
posted by musofire at 9:01 PM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would never say that it was cruel; in fact I'm leaning towards saying you're totally in the clear. I don't even think your behavior is weird, except maybe in the statistical sense. In fact I think it's refreshingly sensible. The only caveat I would give is that I guess it depends a lot on what his expectations/hopes are compared to yours. He could easily misinterpret this as something romantic, especially depending on how much he might (secretly?) like you in that way and/or how lonely he is or how much he craves romantic interaction to begin with. If it happened to me, I would definitely be totally fine with just cuddling, but I probably wouldn't assume that that was what our relationship was unless it was made explicitly clear. I would probably assume that we were moving slowly in a romantic direction.

It sounds like you did successfully communicate "cuddling only/no sex" to him in regards to that one night, but where there might be loose ends is the potential for future nights together: did he interpret this as "this is what our relationship is going to be like: snuggle-buddies"? Or did he interpret it as "this is what tonight is going to be like (because I just want to take it slow, but there's a good chance we'll get more romantic in the future)? And do you even know which way you meant it and what you want for the future yourself?
posted by jef at 9:13 PM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're being a little weird, but people in general are very weird. So you're in the clear, but some guy in the future may not understand.
posted by happyroach at 11:08 PM on March 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

The only person whose opinion on this point matters is the guy who shared your bed. Period. End of story. Ask him how he honestly interpreted what you said and what happened, and go from there. Nobody else can weigh in on this situation accurately because they don't know the most important variable: this other guy's feelings and thoughts on the matter.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:09 PM on March 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Your male friend is telling you what he would feel in the first man's place. This is information about your friend, not about the man in the bed.

I suspect it's a rare man who would agree to this for long, but for one night, if he's comfortable with it, it's pretty considerate.

If you say "hey let's go to bed" waggling your eyebrows and making sexy noises,

This are the sexy noises that KatherynT is referring to. (SFW-YTL
posted by Sunburnt at 11:17 PM on March 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

nthing that you are not leading him on. What you did was the opposite of leading him on; you specifically said what you wanted to happen and nothing else happened but what you wanted. Yay!

Disgree with everyone that said this was somehow "weird" or childish. Snuggling is great! No one is too old to enjoy cuddling. Plus, you guys are two consenting adults and can do whatever you want in bed.
posted by Diskeater at 12:07 AM on March 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

Your friend's comment probably says more about him than it does about you. You're not weird or cruel. Of course I say that as someone who has asked this from men before (not as a regular practice, but on occasion). I've also known female friends with similar experiences too. Maybe not a ton of guys will admit it, but people who are able to enjoy a night of just snuggles once in a while do exist, and they do it without resentment too. Your friend has now asserted he is not one of those people.

If you're doing date-like activities with this guy, it is probably in your best interest to clarify with him where this is (or isn't) going at some point, just to ensure you're not leading him on. But from my perspective, you didn't do anything wrong. Please carry on :)
posted by human ecologist at 12:10 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it depends what you think your friend thinks. If it's clear you're just friends, always were, always will be, no sex thing going on at all, it's absolutely fine.

At the other extreme, if your friend really does want a sexual relationship and is merely being patient, it could seem manipulative. You'd come across as dangling the eventual prospect of sex while tacitly imposing the condition that he pretends to be comfortable with mere snuggling now.

Obviously you thought it was more like the former, and it could well be, so you can acquit yourself of being cruel. It's certainly not the case that what you did was necessarily wrong. But it's difficult for you to be sure you did the right thing (not least because if the second scenario is more like it, he might think that the road to sex is pretending he doesn't want sex). I think it's impossible for distant Mefites to tell, on that.
posted by Segundus at 1:17 AM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

You weren't leading him on for that night. You set very clear boundaries, which it sounds like he respected. That's all good.

However, he may believe that in the future you might come around. The date-like activities and the snuggling could well be understood as expressions of romantic interest.
posted by Area Man at 3:36 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

When a woman has done this with me, I feel flattered that she trusts me that much. Being close with someone -- whether romantically or not -- involves trust, and we are never more unguarded than when asleep. I am sure any grown woman realizes that there are skeezy guys out there who would take any opportunity (however tenuous) to try to climb on top of a woman, but as a man, I would read this "... but I know you are not one of them."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:47 AM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Not all guys you meet will be in the kind of space where they see women interested in long term relationships as more than sexual prizes one can be closer to or further away from, and of the many guys who lack this basic maturity many of them will also lack even the most basic self-awareness of it. That does not however mean that it is somehow your fault if they were to get butthurt about not acquiring sex they were explicitly told not to expect, nor does it mean that their butthurtness would be in any way your responsibility.

There is nothing wrong with being a guy who only really wants sex and would feel disappointed by a night of cuddling, but there is something really stupid about being a guy like this and willingly spending a night just cuddling that is in absolutely no way your responsibility. There is catagorically nothing possibly unfair about your well communicatedly limited invitation, even if it would indeed present an opportunity for the foolish to be unfair to themselves.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:02 AM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm apparently in the minority, but my opinion is that snuggling in bed is not something that you should ask of from "acquaintances" that you're not even interested in enough to kiss. That to me is a thing that one does with a person you have at least some level of romantic interest in, not just a friend. If someone had done that to me (and I'm female, FWIW) I would have been pretty confused and disappointed--not so much that it didn't lead to Teh Secks on that particular occasion, but that there was zero chance of it leading to Teh Relationship (of some sort at least, even if it's just going out on "dates" and rather than "date-y" hanging out).

Ask yourself this: if you had been hanging out with a female friend and for convenience's sake she had wound up spending the night at your place, would you have invited her to snuggle in bed with you? If not, then it's not really about just missing a warm body or human contact, is it?

If it was just a case of "let's take this slow" then I would see things in a different light. But it sounds like you're actually starting to look around for a potential partner (you describe yourself as been single for a year and getting back into the dating game, not as been single for a year and planning on staying single for the foreseeable future...) but that this guy is definitely not a candidate for whatever reason.
posted by drlith at 4:36 AM on March 3, 2013 [14 favorites]

If you're interested in this guy romantically and just aren't ready for sex yet, then what you did is fine. If you aren't interested in this guy romantically, then you are leading him on.
posted by empath at 6:36 AM on March 3, 2013 [8 favorites]

He spent the night about a week ago. At first I said he could take the couch, then changed my mind and said he could share the bed with me, but, I said point-blank, I'm not willing to have sex.

Sounds like you said what you wanted and he was willing to do that.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:52 AM on March 3, 2013

There are those who would do the sex part but NOT let the guy/girl sleep over. Sleeping over is pretty darn intimate.
posted by skbw at 8:02 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I must be in the minority here as well. I would say it's completely inappropriate to ask this, even if you flat out tell this person that sex isn't happening. Even if you preface that whole thing with that explanation, his mind will wander into the possibility. Sure, that's his own fault, but why put that person through the bullshit. Don't do it.

As @empath said above, if you aren't interested in the guy romantically at all, cut the shit. You are leading him on despite stating the opposite.
posted by MMALR at 8:02 AM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think it's less about your assumption that he wants sex vs you wanting to cuddle. I think it's more about whether he has feelings for you and and whether you share them.

If you are both on the same page w/r/t your relationship then I don't think it's a big deal. But if he wants more and you don't then you're going to hurt him.
posted by bunderful at 8:51 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not clear on your situation.

Is this a guy you're dating casually and aren't ready to consider having sex with yet? Or is this a guy you're sure you're not into romantically, someone who is consigned always and forever to the friend zone?

In the first case, it's perfectly fine. It's taking a physical relationship slowly.

In the second case it is weird and and not-very-nice mixed signal. Not because you owe him sex; but because adults share beds when they are physically intimate, and if you're not into him in that way then you are leading him on.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:10 AM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm a firm believer in that being "up front" with someone requires both words and actions.

Example: a person states upfront that they don't want a relationship with someone, then dates them, sleeps with them, meets their family and friends, hangs out with them every weekend for months, the whole sha-bang.

I would claim that that person wasn't being upfront. Sure their words were "no relationship," but their actions contradicted that, and I believe that the victim of such treatment would not be out of line for feeling confused and slighted.

Now in your situation: I don't believe that you were "wrong" per say, but are in danger of failing to be upfront. Your words said "no sex" but failed to also say "and no relationship" or "I just want to take it slow". You took a man to your bed and shared the warmth of his body; that generally means something in our society. To truly be upfront, you need to clarify what you meant, and if you have no intention of ever entering into a romantic relationship with him, he needs to know that before he invests any more of his time/resources/emotions on you.

Note: I'm not suggesting that you owe him anything or that taking someone to bed implies sex or a relationship. That is never the case. But I am saying that it's reasonable for people to expect that your actions match your words. In this case, I don't think that you have used enough words to explain your intentions.
posted by Shouraku at 9:54 AM on March 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

As a bunch of people have already pointed out, you seems to have mixed up two levels:

1. The short-term. Inviting someone over, asking them to sleep in your bed and snuggle with no sex is perfectly OK. It's not weird or harmful, and he had every right to say "no," take the couch, go home.

2. The long-term. It's not clear from your description, but it really sounds like you have no romantic interest in this guy. What isn't clear is if he has any romantic interest in you. If he doesn't, make whatever arrangements you like, understanding that, when he meets someone he's romantically interested in, everything will change. If he is, and this gets a little tricky, because people in non-reciprocal situations often say things they don't feel, you need to be really upfront and make it clear that this isn't going anywhere, and it won't go anywhere. Which may lead to changes in your relationship.

I have had, in the past, friendships with people where one of us made it very clear that we were going to be friends, even if we were doing date-like things (movies, dinners, eating at each other's houses, etc). We always drew the line at spending the night, because, well, it was the line we drew. It might have been OK, and there would have been nothing wrong with it, but there is always the potential for hurt feelings. In all of these cases, the relationship faded away over time, as one or the other of us got into a relationship that was "more than friends," and we started getting that sort of "date-like emotional validation" from actual dates.

So your mileage may vary, but, assuming you want to keep hanging out with this guy, I would talk through it in detail. I would also assume that, while this may be very pleasant in the short run, it is likely to be a transient stage. If everyone is honest and upfront, the friendship is more likely to survive the transition.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:17 AM on March 3, 2013

Asking honestly for what you want and stating your boundaries up front is the exact opposite of 'cruelly' leading someone on. If your acquaintance decides they're interested in more than just snuggles, then they can have the courage (like you did!) to discuss it explicitly and see where it goes from there.

I also think it's pretty unfair to guilt the OP for sending mixed signals. Consent matters, and if someone decides to interpret "I'm not willing to have sex, but I will cuddle" as "Maybe we'll have sex later" the fault does not lie with the OP for being insufficiently clear.

If nothing else, at least you've learned your other male friend is not a suitable candidate for snuggle dates.
posted by Space Kitty at 1:31 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

IMO it's the "I'm not willing to have sex yet" following a night of cuddling that is not sufficiently clear, not the "we're not having sex tonight."
posted by Justinian at 2:09 PM on March 3, 2013

I personally view cuddling as something way more intimate than sex, so for me having sex with a casual acquaintance wouldn't be odd, but trying to snuggle with them would be weird. I don't think you did anything wrong, you were clear about what you wanted/didn't want and you're both consenting adults. However, to avoid mixed signals in the future, I don't think you should cuddle with people you don't eventually intend to have sex with.
posted by crankylex at 3:37 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

As someone who has been on the exact opposite side of that, you were not cruel. It's not leading someone on to say "I don't want to have sex but necking is ok in the bed." Leading someone one would be telling someone how much you want to have sex with them and then making them sleep on the couch. Which is not nice, but sometimes absolutely necessary.

So no, you did nothing wrong. The person who you should check with is the guy you shared the bed with. What was his response to your text? Are you still seeing each other? If you are, then that seems to be a vote in favor of everything being good.
posted by Hactar at 11:43 AM on March 4, 2013

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